The trial for a Delaware police officer facing assault charges for allegedly kicking a suspect in the head began in Dover Tuesday.
A jury heard opening statements and witness testimonies for the case involving officer Thomas Webster. The Dover City Police Department cop is facing charges of assault in the second degree for allegedly causing injury to Lateef Dickerson back in August 2013.
The 10-year police veteran was on his normal shift when a 911 call was made in reference to a large fight at a gas station off Route 13. The caller said the suspects fled, and that one had a weapon.
The defense says when officers arrived at the scene Dickerson refused to follow orders and reached towards his waist as if attempting to pull out a weapon. They say Webster kicked the suspect in the head as a means to get him on the ground after he didn’t comply.
A complaint was filed following the incident, and investigations by the police department and the State took place over the next several months. An additional civil rights claim was dismissed.
During Tuesday’s trial several witnesses were brought to the stand for cross examinations, including several law enforcement officials from the Dover City Police Department, and the nurse who treated Wilkerson for wounds that night.
The prosecution used video footage taken from another officer’s dash cam to argue Dickerson was already on the ground when Webster kicked him.
They say he used unnecessary force that caused a dislocated jaw requiring surgery. The prosecution also argues Wilkerson was unarmed, and the officers on the scene didn’t search him for weapons.
“Use of force is a power instructed to police to do what’s necessary…When that power is unnecessary and indeed unjust it is against the law. When that use of force causes injury it is assault,” attorney Mark Denney told the jury.
Defense attorney Jim Liguori argued video footage shows that Wilkerson indeed had his hands by his waist, and was non-compliant.
On Monday Liguori asked that the case be dismissed, claiming evidence that would prove his client’s innocence was missing.
He says the police department’s retention policy made it possible for important video and audio recordings to be discarded. Liguori also argued that since Wilkerson is now nowhere to be found, it could be an unfair trial. The judge denied the request for dismissal.
The prosecution previously offered Webster a plea that would lower his charge to a misdemeanor, and he would face only up to one year in jail and a fine. Webster formally refused the plea Monday.
The trial is expected to continue throughout the week. Webster could face anywhere from zero to eight years in jail if found guilty.